Psychedelics Side Effects: What To Know

Psychedelics Side Effects: What To Know

Psychedelics can offer a range of medicinal benefits, particularly in terms of improving mental health conditions, such as depression. However, if you’re planning to use psychedelics for healing purposes, there are various psychedelics side effects that you should be aware of. These are the secondary and (usually) undesirable effects of the drug. For example, while many psychedelics can help alleviate depression, they can also create some unwanted physical reactions.

In this article, we explain the side effects of the most common medicinal psychedelics, including psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca, ibogaine, MDMA, and ketamine.

Psilocybin Mushrooms Reactions

Psilocybin mushrooms (or ‘magic mushrooms’) are found all over the world and remain one of the most commonly used psychedelics. Burgeoning research into psychedelics also reveals that psilocybin — the active ingredient in these mushrooms — is highly effective at alleviating treatment-resistant depression, end-of-life anxiety, tobacco addiction and even asthma. However, if you take psilocybin mushrooms, you may experience some side effects, alongside the psychedelic and medicinal effects. These psychedelics side effects include the following.

  • Dilated pupils
  • Excessive yawning
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Impaired concentration
  • Muscle weakness
  • Lack of coordination
  • Nausea Vomiting

Side Effects Of Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca is a psychedelic brew, traditionally used in a ceremonial context by many indigenous tribes in the Amazon basin. Ayahuasca tourism is also a booming industry, with many Westerners traveling to countries like Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, and Costa Rica to drink the brew in order to overcome personal problems and mental health issues. Research has so far indicated that this brew, which contains the psychoactive chemical DMT, is effective at treating recurrent depression and drug addiction. Side effects of ayahuasca include the following:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting (also known as the ‘purge’, this is a very common side effect of ayahuasca)
  • Diarrhea
  • Tremors
  • Nystagmus (involuntary, rapid eye movements)
  • Dizziness
  • Lack of coordination
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure

Side Effects Of Ibogaine

Ibogaine is the active ingredient found in Tabernanthe iboga, a rainforest shrub found in West Africa. The Punu, Mitsogo, and Fang people of Gabon in Central Africa practice Bwiti, a religion that involves the use of iboga as an initiation ceremony — young Gabonese men take iboga to initiate themselves as members of the Bwiti religion. There is now a global interest in iboga, with many people traveling to Gabon or elsewhere in the world to participate in iboga ceremonies. Iboga shows promise as an effective treatment for addiction, with many former opioid addicts, for example, finding it worked for them. Iboga does, however, entail some side effects.

  • Low blood pressure
  • Slow heart rate
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Seizures
  • Paralysis
  • Lack of coordination
  • Vomiting

Side Effects Of MDMA

MDMA (also known as ‘ecstasy’) is normally thought of as a club or party drug. But this substance, which is known for producing strong feelings of empathy and euphoria, is now being taken seriously as a therapeutic substance.

Research has demonstrated that MDMA-assisted therapy is useful for ameliorating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including PTSD that is treatment-resistant. In fact, in 2017, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted Breakthrough Therapy Designation to MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, which speeds up the FDA approval process. However, when taking MDMA for therapeutic purposes, the following psychedelics side effects may occur:

  • Jaw clenching and teeth grinding
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of coordination
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating
  • Thirst
  • Nausea
  • Nystagmus
  • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature

Side Effects Of Ketamine

Ketamine is a drug with many different effects. It is an anesthetic, analgesic (pain reliever), and dissociative (it can leave you feeling detached from reality). It can also have psychedelic side effects, with high enough doses resulting in mystical-type experiences. Therapeutically, studies have shown that ketamine is a fast-acting and highly effective antidepressant, helping patients struggling with severe depression, treatment-resistant depression, and suicidal ideation. Ketamine isn’t without its reactions, though, which include the following:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Lack of coordination
  • Diplopia (double vision)
  • Drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Muscle tremors
  • Increased heartbeat and blood pressure

Also Read: This is how to find the best ketamine therapy clinic for you

Persistent Psychedelics Side Effects

Under the right conditions, medical psychedelics can have fast-acting and long-lasting benefits. A systematic review of 34 studies on psychedelics found that “with proper screening, preparation, supervision, and integration, limited adverse side effects were noted by study participants”. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that long-term psychedelics side effects never occur.

Many people use psychedelics for therapeutic reasons, but this doesn’t always mean that the conditions are set up the way they are in these highly controlled psychedelic studies. Often, people will take medicinal psychedelics in a retreat setting, with an underground guide, with friends, or simply on their own. This may make an unsettling experience more likely, which can increase the risk of persistent side effects.

After a particularly disturbing experience — with inadequate support before, during, and after the experience — a user may suffer long-term side effects. These can be seen below.

  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Depersonalization (the feeling of being outside yourself)
  • Derealization (feeling detached from your environment)

While these side effects are possible, most people who have so-called “bad trips” on psychedelics still find such experiences valuable, not noticing any adverse effects in the long-term. And if negative side effects do persist after the experience is over, many people find that they resolve on their own. If they persist, then seeking professional advice and treatment is advisable.

What Is HPPD?

Another possible long-term side effect of psychedelics is a condition known as hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD). This is when one’s perception is still changed after a psychedelic experience is over. These perceptual changes usually involve visual distortions, with objects appearing different than usual, as if one were tripping slightly. This condition can be barely noticeable, annoying, unsettling, or debilitating.

The prevalence of HPPD in users of psychedelic is unclear. However, as a long-term side effect, studies indicate it is either an unlikely or highly unlikely effect to occur in regular users. In many cases, HPPD symptoms will go away on their own. In those cases where HPPD persists for months or even years after psychedelic use, treatment can include abstinence from substance use, stress reduction, treating any mental health issues present alongside the HPPD, and medication (with benzodiazepines being one of the most commonly recommended drugs for treating the condition).

The Importance Of Understanding Psychedelics Side Effects

It’s important to be aware of both the short-term and long-term side effects of psychedelics, so you can make an informed decision about using them. Being aware of these side effects can help you feel more comfortable when they occur, as you will know they’re completely normal. Remember that short-term side effects will pass and long-term side effects are likely to pass on their own, too, so long as you take a break from psychedelics, look after yourself, and get help if you need it.

Being aware of all possible side effects of psychedelics means you can prepare in how best to deal with them. You can take steps to reduce the side effects of psychedelics. And for those effects that can’t be reduced, they can still be managed, which will be a topic for a future article. 

Remember, any drug is likely to carry some side effects. Most psychiatric drugs carry side effects that people would rather not deal with, and these persist, as you need to take these medications on a daily basis. With medicinal psychedelics, at least, the side effects will usually only last for the duration of the experience. When the experience ends, so do the side effects. The therapeutic benefits, on the other hand, can remain – for weeks, months, years, or even a lifetime.

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Sam Woolfe

View all posts by Sam Woolfe

Sam Woolfe is a freelance writer based in London. His main areas of interest include mental health, mystical experiences, the history of psychedelics, and the philosophy of psychedelics. He first became fascinated by psychedelics after reading Aldous Huxley's description of the mescaline experience in The Doors of Perception. Since then, he has researched and written about psychedelics for various publications, covering the legality of psychedelics, drug policy reform, and psychedelic science.

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